Note: I wrote this article back in 2013. I never finished it and has sat on my drafts until now. I made some edits but I really wanted to preserve my 2013 perspective. So you’ll see me refer to shows currently airing, although they were current in 2013 and probably have since ended. But I think the heart of this article embodies how I felt then, which matches how I feel today about TV. I may someday write a more modern piece. But how often do you get to publish a work from so long ago?
Today, I was checking Facebook when a particular status intrigued me. A friend wished Girl Meets World would be just as good as its series predecessor, Boy Meets World. I knew it wasn’t. Why? Because it’s Disney Channel. The current day Disney doesn’t compare to the late 90s/early 2000s Disney shows with Lizzie McGuire, Even Stevens, Proud Family, That’s So Raven – the list goes on. But today’s shows? Hannah Montana, Suite Life on Deck, ANT Farm, Jessie, Good Luck Charlie? Nope. Quality isn’t even close.
So I typed in my little comment stating the obvious, until I realized maybe this shouldn’t be as cut and dry as I’m putting it out to be.
Perhaps it’s less about the network and more about the show’s narrative style. So I did some research. I found out original creator Michael Jacobs was helping out with the pilot, but that doesn’t mean he’s sticking around for the whole show. Then, I realized we’re comparing between apples and oranges.
Boy Meets World was on ABC, a major broadcasting network. Girl Meets World was going to be on Disney Channel. Totally different narrative styles, totally different rules for writers. Disney even refused to show select episodes of BMW because it was too inappropriate for their viewers. So while we might get the Michael Jacobs style, the content will be too different. Even Topanga said this was a completely different series, despite all the familiarity.
So I returned to my comment, and was about to end with my love for Netflix while poking fun at myself. You see, I’m currently watching Ally McBeal.
I know, I know. I don’t really have a defense for it. It’s a well-written show with extremely dynamic, somewhat believable characters by David E. Kelley. Most of you don’t know Executive Producer David E. Kelley, but you know his work. He’s been the writer and executive producer of Ally McBeal, L.A. Law, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Boston Legal, and currently the EP of TNT’s new drama Monday Mornings. In the late 90s, he was the highest-paid EP in the business and may have been the 2nd best EP in the biz, behind Law & Order creator Dick Wolf.
Oh yeah, and a ton of those actors from Ally McBeal went on to better things. One of them went to star in the CBS procedural Numbers for 7 years, another starred in Arrested Development for 3 years, a supporting character became a starring one in 30 Rock for 7 seasons, and Calista Flockhart herself ended up on Brothers and Sisters for 5 years….and married Harrison Ford. This all without mentioning the careers of Lucy Liu, Regina Hall, James Marsden (Clark Kent from Smallville), and for short stints Robert Downey Jr. and Hayden Panettiere.
And we’re still not done yet.
Ron Howard and Brain Grazier were both executive producers (EPs) on the show, Ally McBeal being their first show under Imagine Entertainment. You might have heard of them. They’ve produced Arrested Development, 24, and Lie to Me. They also produced Freak and Geeks – kicking off Judd Apatow’s TV career, now the Executive Producer for the HBO’s Girls – and The Wonder Years, starring Fred Savage of The Princess Bride and the older brother to, yep, Ben Savage of Boy Meets World.
Not bad for a show no one talks about today.
But it’s phenomenal how many connections there are in this industry, in this world. We’re always told there are so many people in the industry, that it’s larger than life. Yet it’s really a small world. So much connects to the other.
We’re living in an insane time where I can watch almost any show in history. Because of Hulu, I’ve been watching Aaron Sorkin’s first show Sports Night, where I found out many West Wing characters came from Sports Night. Because of Netflix, I’ve been watching Ally McBeal, where I learned about Imagine Entertainment’s humble begins. Watching Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or any TV network has become more than just watching TV for me. It’s about learning producers’ styles, how actors got their start, which EPs were popular 20, 10, 5 years ago, and why. It feels like I’m reading a TV encyclopedia. An encyclopedia that’s actually fun to read.
Granted, I understand this concept is simply degree of separation. But my world gets crafted from those degrees. You start binging a show and recognize if the creator or a staff writer wrote the scripts. You start recognizing directors from various shows (like seeing How I Met Your Mother‘s Pamela Fryman directing on Frasier). You recognize actors across different screens, notice when the set looks a bit different season to season, and when a show becomes too formulaic. Over time, this creates a world. Not just for the imagination, but also for creation. If I want to create a Boy Meets World-type show, get Michael Jacobs as the showrunner. If I want a sharpshooting character, hire Portia De Rossi. If I want a director highly regarded for their theatrical take on TV show, Pamela Fryman is your girl.
Sure, you can Wiki all this on your own, but there’s nothing like watching the work of thousands of people become living, breathing content. Most get their jobs through connections, and most viewing habits are due to a show’s connection with their viewers’ lives. Every show is special, because it brings us to a world of both fiction and reality. Watching The West Wing connects me to Aaron Sorkin and his characters. I may never meet Aaron Sorkin, but I feel like I know him, much like understanding a singer from song lyrics. That’s the world I love. That’s the world I want to build.
So, thank you, Netflix. And Hulu. And all of TV.
You make my world an amazing thing.